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Meet the women commandos fighting Naxals in the jungles of Bastar

Author: Shantanu Nandan Sharma, ET Bureau
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: March 4, 2018
URL:    https://m.economictimes.com/news/defence/meet-the-women-commandos-fighting-naxals-in-the-jungles-of-bastar/amp_articleshow/63150699.cms?__twitter_impression=true

Jivalamari, translated from Gondi, means a place that takes your life. It almost does. Located on a hillock in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district, the village is a steep four kilometre trek uphill from the nearest motorable road and leaves you breathless at the end of it.

In the next couple of months, Jivalamari won’t live up to its name; a road is, finally, coming up. The construction is in full swing, with villagers, especially women, giving a helping hand. There is a reason why rural women are coming out in large numbers: a platoon of female commandos — one platoon has 36 soldiers— is now patrolling the area.

Usually, villagers are reluctant to take part in road construction, as the Naxals oppose, sometimes brutally, any road-building activity. In Sukma, for example, 25 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force were ambushed when they were guarding road construction workers in April last year.

“As I come from a police family, they are aware of the life of a soldier. Yes, my family is concerned, but for them, my staying in the jungles is the new normal,” Divyawatti, a commando guarding construction workers at Jivalamari, tells ET Magazine. Two weeks ago, this writer spent time with the women commandos on duty, to understand their life in the jungle, and how they have succeeded in creating bonhomie with the villagers, particularly women who play important roles in the tribal communities there. The commandos are heavily armed, and battle-ready with bullet-proof jackets on.

Another commando, Tikeswari Dhruv, says: “The villagers were initially wondering why we — women commandos — are here. Now, they come to us, and we talk and laugh together.” Any fear of the Naxals? “We are strong women. Hame dar nahi lagti hai (We don’t get scared).” She joined the Chhattisgarh Police in 2006 and got elevated as a commando in November last year.

It was only recently that women commandos got trained for limited operations in Naxal-hit areas. The first platoon of female commandos was, in fact, created at Bijapur district in mid-2017, at the initiative of the then superintendent of police, KL Dhruv. Some of the women constables from his police force were selected and given rigorous training for a fortnight before they were inducted as commandos and sent to the field immediately.

The experiment worked. Two more platoons, one each in Kanker and Sukma districts, were raised. The police establishment is now planning all-woman units in Kondagaon and Narayanpur districts as well. “We have deployed women commandos for area domination, guarding road construction and also for limited anti-Naxal operations. The success rate so far has been very encouraging. We will expand their presence further,” says Vivekanand, inspector-general of police, Bastar division.

For the police and the security forces, a big challenge in anti-Naxal operations have been the allegations that security personnel on duty sexually harass and rape women. With the deployment of women commandos, the number of such allegations has come down, say police sources. ET Magazine, however, could not gather comparative data to corroborate this statement.

Further, women commandos have done an extraordinary job bonding with the villagers, say two police officers on the ground.

At the nearby Marapi village, which was connected by road only two months ago, many villagers, particularly women, are praising the commandos. A group of women — Rupatin, Laxmi, Rajula, Ghazmin and Surekha — say they volunteered for road construction work because of the commandos and that it was like a village festival. Halal Ram Netam, a 70-year-old village elder, says: “About 70-80 of our villagers, both men and women, helped in constructing the road. Everyone was comfortable as women commandos were guarding the area.”

The Bastar Police have confirmed that there hasn’t been any casualty of female commando in the past few months since the platoons were formed.

They are now sent for anti-Naxal operations near their camps. But the real test for the brigade will come when they are deployed for hard operations in some of the most vulnerable areas such as those south of Sukma. And if the Bastar Police have their way, it may happen sooner than later.

No. of women commandos in 3 platoons (One platoon has 36 soldiers): 108


* Female commandos were first deployed in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh in mid-2017

* Two platoons were added recently, one each in Sukma and Kanker districts

* They will soon be deployed in Kondagaon and Narayanpur districts


* They are engaged in guarding road construction in Left Wing Extremism-affected areas

* Sent for area domination in villages frequented by Naxals

* Used for limited operations near security camps


* To counter allegations of sexual harassment of tribal women by the forces

* To make easy inroads into villages where women mostly dominate
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